The Unpopular Portrait

The worst spot in Chicago 20 years ago was a neighborhood slight north and little bit west of downtown.  Cabrini Green, Chicago’s public housing project, the city’s solution to the problem of poverty for 40 years.  Maybe you have heard of it, seen it years ago and you still remember the sight of complete and utter hopelessness.  It left a lasting impression, seeing the tall buildings stacked together close as dominos, even if you only saw it once.  Now, of course, this is prime real estate, given that the location is very convenient and accessible to the city’s the hub of commerce, close to the skyscrapers but offering a neighborhood and parking.

In this now vacant land, there used to be rows of light brown project buildings, surrounded by a black metal fence.  The fence was less about keeping the public out, and more about keeping the poor people trapped inside.  The visual was so striking, that just driving by the projects made an impression on the passerby: this was a place of poverty, violence,  depravity, and unhappiness.  One look from the outside was enough to see through the concrete walls into the deplorable state of living that was inside.  The memory of this infamous place is fading, there is no photographic portrait of this time and place, the worst solution ever devised to deal with the poor, the uneducated, the immigrants, the modern slave labor.  There is no tribute to what this neighborhood used to embody, there are no signs of trying to deal with this ongoing problem of the city’s needy, of the displaced, the unfortunate.  No youth center, no job training facility, no refuge for the homeless.  Now, next to the open lot, sits a target where you can go and buy candles.

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